Fury at Soaring Fuel Costs Spreads Around the World

Thursday, 12 June 2008 16:52 by: Anonymous

Fury at Soaring Fuel Costs Spreads Around the World

    Gridlocked cities, empty shelves and bloodshed as fury at soaring costs spreads around the world.

    Worldwide protests over the rising price of fuel escalated today, with the Philippines presidential palace besieged by lorries, fishermen burning their boats in Thailand, and Spanish petrol stations running dry as hauliers blockade major roads.

    Violence has already claimed lives of lorry drivers on either side of the dispute, while one haulier was nearly burned to death in his cab by strikers.

    Hundreds of lorries and minibuses blocked roads in Manila leading to Malacanang Palace today to demand the lifting of a 12 per cent sales tax on fuel. Petrol prices there have risen about 24 per cent this year.

    Traffic ground to a halt as anti-riot police halted the convoy, including about 500 tuk-tuks, Manila's three-wheeled taxis.

    In Thai capital Bangkok, tens of thousands of heavy lorries are threatening to cause havoc while farmers are demonstrating and fishermen have begun burning their boats in nationwide protests against soaring prices of fuel and other essentials.

    Lorry drivers' leaders warned the government that it has until next Tuesday to subsidise their fuel or face at least 100,000 vehicles rumbling into Bangkok.

    A half-day strike yesterday by lorry drivers who parked their vehicles on roads across the country was only a prelude to next week's possible push into Bangkok, they said.

    Finance Minister Suraphong Suebwonglee said there were plans to help reduce transport costs.

    'I am not concerned about the lorry drivers' threat to strike because the government is seeking to subsidise the transport sectors as the whole,' he said.

    One fishermen's group said more than half of the 50,000 fishing boats under its wing are being kept ashore because of the high cost of diesel.

    Thai Airways International raised its fuel surcharges by up to 100 per cent yesterday day due to the rising cost of jet fuel.

    Meanwhile opposition groups in Malaysia today vowed to push on with mass protests against a 41 per cent hike in petrol prices - despite a pledge from the Prime Minister to keep prices fixed for the rest of the year.

    Malaysia is Asia's largest net oil exporter, earning £38 million a year in revenue for every 50 pence rise in crude prices. Protesters demanded to know why rising profits from oil exports were not being used as subsidies to the poor.

    A march is planned tomorrow in Kuala Lumpur to the Petronas Twin Towers, headquarters of oil giant Petronas.

    A million people are expected for another demonstration in the capital next month.

    Police have warned they will take action against protesters, with a permit required for any gatherings of more than four people.

    Malaysia followed India, Indonesia, Taiwan and Sri Lanka by raising pump prices last week.

    On Monday, Nepal became the latest Asian nation to rise prices to stem losses of a state firm.

    Also in Asia, South Korean lorry drivers voted to strike on Monday, ignoring a £5 billion government aid package designed to cushion the impact of fuel price rises.

    In Spain, hauliers' unions vowed to press on with protests, rejecting measures to end the three-day nationwide protests over rising fuel prices.

    In San Isidro, near Alicante, a lorry driver is being treated for serious burns after narrowly escaping an attempt by strikers to burn him alive in his cab. Fire destroyed four trucks and damaged a fifth at the industrial park.

    The incident, being investigated by police, followed the death near Granada on Tuesday of a picketing haulier hit by a lorry.

    Some petrol stations in Madrid and Catalonia have run dry, supermarkets are reporting panic buying and highways around the country have been clogged by slow-moving or parked trucks.

    Car manufacturers warned that if the stoppage continues the entire industry will grind to a halt because parts are not reaching factories.

    Lorries driving at low speed jammed access roads around Madrid, Valencia and Murcia, while sea links between the Balearic Islands and the Spanish mainland were cancelled due to lack of fuel.

    The action has caused disruption for tens of thousands of British holidaymakers in Spain.

    But police yesterday re-established traffic into France at the border post of La Jonquera, where more than 3,000 lorries had been barred entry by pickets.

    In all, 51 people have been arrested since the strike started, and police vehicles have escorted nearly 3,000 lorries.

    The hauliers say fuel prices consume up to 60 per cent of their income.

    The strikers - self-employed drivers who represent an estimated 20 per cent of Spain's haulage industry - say big companies can cope better with fuel price increases by lowering their rates to land more jobs.

    Infrastructure Minister Magdalena Alvarez has rejected the hauliers' demand for a minimum price for their services, describing it as illegal in a market economy.

    The strike is the most serious labour unrest that Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has faced since he came to power in March 2004.

    Spanish fishermen have also been on strike since May 30 to protest against rising fuel costs, and 85 per cent of the fleet is now moored.

    At least 50 people, nearly half of them police officers, were slightly injured in clashes during a fishermen's demonstration in Seville and one involving farmers in Almeria.

    Spain is also struggling with an economic slowdown after a decade-long boom in the property market came to a halt.

    Shortages are also beginning to bite in neighbouring Portugal, where retailers have said food stocks at supermarkets are beginning to run out, and several petrol stations in Lisbon ran dry yesterday.

    Portuguese farmers said they would have to throw away 660,000 gallons of fresh milk by the end of the day unless the protest ended because they had run out of storage capacity.

    A striker died as he tried to stop a truck on a road north of the capital.

    Its main Portela airport diverted airlines to other airfields to refuel, saying it could supply only emergency, military and state flights. Some flights were delayed but none were cancelled.

    In the Netherlands, lorry drivers said they would limit speed to 30mph on a number of Dutch roads today in protest at calls for a diesel excise duty.

    They also want a system to stabilise diesel prices by lowering duties when oil prices rise and raising them when they fall.

Last modified on Thursday, 12 June 2008 17:34